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Magna Carta, the rule of law, and the limits on government


  • Fernández-Villaverde, Jesús


This paper surveys the legal tradition that links Magna Carta with the modern concepts of the rule of law and the limits on government. It documents that the original understanding of the rule of law included substantive commitments to individual freedom and limited government. Then, it attempts to explain how and why such commitments were lost to a formalist interpretation of the rule of law from 1848 to 1939. The paper concludes by arguing that a revival of the substantive commitments of the rule of law is central to reshaping modern states.

Suggested Citation

  • Fernández-Villaverde, Jesús, 2016. "Magna Carta, the rule of law, and the limits on government," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 47(S), pages 22-28.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:irlaec:v:47:y:2016:i:s:p:22-28
    DOI: 10.1016/j.irle.2016.05.006

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Hayek, F. A., 2012. "Hayek on Hayek," University of Chicago Press Economics Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 1, number 9780226321202 edited by Kresge, Stephen & Wenar, Leif, June.
    2. Buchanan, James M, 1987. "The Constitution of Economic Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(3), pages 243-250, June.
    3. Morris M. Kleiner & Alan B. Krueger, 2013. "Analyzing the Extent and Influence of Occupational Licensing on the Labor Market," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(S1), pages 173-202.
    4. Hayek, F. A., 2011. "The Constitution of Liberty," University of Chicago Press Economics Books, University of Chicago Press, number 9780226315379 edited by Hamowy, Ronald, June.
    5. Ernst, Daniel R., 2014. "Tocqueville's Nightmare: The Administrative State Emerges in America, 1900-1940," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199920860, Decembrie.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ruixue Jia & Gérard Roland & Yang Xie, 2021. "A Theory of Power Structure and Institutional Compatibility: China vs. Europe Revisited," NBER Working Papers 28403, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    More about this item


    Rule of law; Magna Carta; Legal theory; Limited government;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • K10 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - General (Constitutional Law)
    • D78 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Positive Analysis of Policy Formulation and Implementation
    • N43 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - Europe: Pre-1913


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